Literary Magazine Reviews

Posted January 30, 2011

32 Poems :: Anamesa :: The Aurorean :: Big Muddy :: Dislocate :: Elder Mountain :: Florida English :: FRiGG :: The Healing Muse :: Lake Effect :: The Literary Review :: The Louisville Review :: Monkeybicycle :: New Letters :: RATTLE :: Sleeping Fish :: Washington Square :: Western Humanities Review :: Wild Apples :: ZYZZYVA

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32 Poems cover32 Poems

Volume 8 Number 2

Fall 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

I have always loved the organizing principle of this little journal: thirty-two ways to write (or read) a poem:

  1. Adam Vines – “Toilet Flowers” – the provocative title, the family narrative.
  2. Eric Thorgersen – “Back Then” – couplets that sound like a cool country song.
  3. Mark Wagenaar – “The Other World” – “And the other world He spoke of.”
  4. Christopher Bakken – “Amphitheater” – A metaphysical accomplishment.
  5. Cori A. Winrock – “W11 3HT” – I have no idea what this means, but the poem makes sense (“a many-layered haunting”).
  6. Chris Anderson – “Plow” – how farming makes a good poem.
  7. Luke Johnson – “Lobster” – A poem of slender couplets about aging the “bulldozed body.”
  8. Luke Johnson – “On Demolition” – A personal story, a universal perspective (“letting the light fade, forgetting the horizon”).
  9.  Lesley Wheeler – “Radiance” – “God told me and I did not listen.”
  10. Jennifer Militello – “Phobia” – Smart, painful couplets.
  11.  Michael Flatt – “Between the Sunset and the Screen” – “The hand of the auteur is heavy with method…”
  12.  Sioney Wade – “Late” – slender, narrow, two word couplets “and we brief / we rejoiced?”).

Okay. You get the idea. Thirty-two opportunities to remember why you love poetry. I especially loved “Chairs of the Twentieth Century” by Diana Smith and Stacy Kidd’s “Cordial Julep” (“Tell me again you know something / about dust”). The cover is an eerie, evocative skull design by Dirk Fowler—effective, haunting. 32 poems, 32 bones?
[www.32poems.com]

 

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Anamesa coverAnamesa

Volume 8 Number 1

Spring 2010

Biannual

Review by Aleah Steinzeig

A snarling wolf graces the front cover of this issue. This jolting art, titled “The Queen/Bitch,” by Jennifer Murray provides an intriguing introduction to the central themes of the issue: loneliness and isolation.

The opening piece, “Some Sort of Grace: David Wojnarowicz’s Archive of the Death of Peter Hujar” by Emily Colucci immerses the reader in the age-old search to find meaning in death. Colucci explores different mediums of death representations and how they “create an affective space for representing…intimacies through a melancholic struggle with loss.” The discussion of death continues with Salvador Olguin’s “Interactions With the Non-Human: Fetishism, Prosthesis, and Postmortem Photography.” Olguin probes deeply into the way humans interact with death and loss, using “the material dimension of images [and] questions regarding their personhood.” Other exciting essays in this volume include Renée DeVoe Mertz’s “The Art of Displaying Life and Death: Aspects of Surrealism in Vienna’s Naturhistorisches Museum” and “Edgardo Antonio Vigo’s Proyectos a Realizar” by Vanessa Davidson. A memoir by Hugo Pezzini is included along with several fiction pieces.

Poetry in this volume focuses on the concept of finding the self or the individual, highlighted in the poems “To My Breast-Pump” by Kiran Mascarenhas and “Lady Capulet to Daughter Juliet” by Katie Beers. An intriguing poem is “Fugue” by Marina Blitshteyn. Combining English, Hebrew, and music notation, the “periods of silence” draw the reader in and entangle them in simplicity. “Fugue” is a poem that not only draws the eye but also the mind. Each re-reading presents one with new revelations.

Also featured is an Art and Photography section which includes more of Jennifer Murray’s fabric, pencil, and charcoal creations as well as some beautiful pieces by Emily Sharp, Tiffany Minaret Sakato, Scott Bankert, and April Elisabeth Pierce. The mixed media on canvas piece, “Sex and Death” by Briana MacWilliam is a shining jewel tucked into the middle of these pages. The image of a beautiful woman holding two cattle skulls emerging from a flower bed makes a striking picture. Cleverly contrasting the lively flowers and accusing skeletons, this picture draws one in and does not easily let go.

As the foreword to first issue of Anamesa suggests, this issue continues to invite readers to “blur boundaries, re-imagine links, [and] explore the between.” With pieces that take the individual from death, to love, to injury, and beyond, Anamesa provides a glimpse of the many aspects of the human soul. The editor’s note states, “In the darkest moments—of betrayal, loss, confusion, and even death—there is the potential for a burst of vibrant color to emerge and enliven what formerly seemed hopeless.” Readers will emerge from this volume with that renewed sense of hope.
[www.anamesajournal.org]

 

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The Aurorean coverThe Aurorean

Volume 15 Issue 2

Fall/Winter 2010-2011

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This fifteenth anniversary issue of The Aurorean, published in Farmington, Maine, celebrates the fall/winter seasons in New England. This issue features poets Jim Brosnan and Martha Christina, and includes a special section of Haiku and “related poetry.”

I liked in particular Steve Ausherman’s “Toms’ Painting” with its anaphoric structure:

I resist the golden glow of the sunflower watercolor gracing the wall.
–the landlord open sail unfurled against early freezes.
–the robin belly glow of October’s early sunsets.
–the rich washed skies of Charlie Brown specials.

Brigit Truex’s rhythms in “Cole’s Hill”:

under our feet
bones under soil
first light of still touches
faces of the People
who gather here
long before

Bridgette E. Hahn’s unexpected metaphysical reach in “Golden”:

The first leaves fall,
pear shaped darlings.
No one sits on front porches,
no witnesses but me.

Kenneth O’Keefe’s s rhymes in “The Miracle”:

I can’t account for every incarnation,
Just say it was some lengthy lives ago,
When wind was blowing down a whole creation,
A flashing fall of flakes that rose of snow.

And Connie Post’s stark and economical philosophy in “Nothing After Midnight”: “It is good to go to bed hungry / some nights.”

This little journal will fill you up.
[www.encirclepub.com/poetry/aurorean]

 

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Big Muddy coverBig Muddy

A Journal of the Mississippi River Valley

Volume 10 Issue 1

2010

Biannual

Review by Molly Clasen

This journal reads like a road trip. Its rich landscape left me with a lingering sense of journey as I found characters and imagery replaying in my mind like saturated photographs.

Kel Munger’s short story “Missus Finn,” winner of the 2010 Mighty River Short Story Contest, inspires excitement from the very first page as Huckleberry Finn’s abolitionist mother carries us back to Pre-Civil War Mississippi. Peppered with dialectical snippets like “bruised from crown to crotch,” and vivid details such as rubbing “pitch and dirt,” on slaves’ feet to hide their scent from slave hunters, “Missus Finn,” sublimely intertwines history and fiction in this suspenseful narrative.

Other stories similarly evoke a fierce sense of place and struggle. Robert Hamblin’s “Mammy” explores the mingling of guilt and love in a child’s house, while Elinor Davis takes us to a Post-World War II Midwestern suburb where a half-Jewish, half-Japanese girl grapples with identity. A particularly standout piece is True Faust’s “The Priest and the Honkytonk Angel,” in which Stephen, a Vietnam veteran pretending to be a priest, encounters an alluring and spiritually hungry woman at a bar. Rarely do I read philosophy and passion woven together with such tenderness, especially when Stephen laments how it’s “God’s cruel joke...to make people want life, want life so bad, and then to make it so fragile, to just take it away...in so many varied...creative ways.” Tragically, Faust’s husband published this after she passed away from cancer. No doubt it will remain a poignant glimpse into a bright mind taken too soon.

The poetry rhythmically connects these stories like heartbeats. Kathryn Kerr wrestles with life’s ephemeral nature in “The Trouble with Genealogy,” humorously quipping how in historical records, “A life is not worth a note / ...unless you are murdered, / hanged, or lost at sea.” Most unusual is perhaps Kerr’s other poem, “Hill Woman’s Rant,” a terse plea to embrace nature and to “Let me live where no dead / deer heads protrude abruptly / from the wall” and “Let chain saws, lawn mowers, / and weed eaters be extinct.” Images from this ardent poem burned in my brain for weeks.

Next time you yearn to roll down your windows, hop in a car, and speed toward the sunset, I suggest letting Big Muddy feed your appetite for adventure. It’s a rowdy, profound ride and worth every second.
[www6.semo.edu/universitypress/bigmuddy]

 

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Dislocate coverDislocate

Number 6

Spring 2010

Annual

Review by Allison Fujimoto

Unaware of any necessary precautions in the handling of “The Contaminated Issue,” I consciously folded back the front cover and crossed my fingers in hoping its pages were not infected with some sort of incurable disease. But it was already too late; the truth is that I was already contaminated; we all are.

This issue features nine works of fiction that serve as warning signs: “Black Apples” by Lucas Church and “C+, B-, B, F, B, A, C-, A-” by Chris Gavaler are masterfully constructed and transport readers to a time and place where growth and demise, freedom and imprisonment, and intelligence and downright idiocy are all manifested and experienced in high school. Another prominent piece entitled “Impermanence or, Why I Can’t Stop Googling Myself” by Robert Anthony Siegel is equally fatal in its swift diagnosis and exploration of the traces of contamination that technology and death leave behind: “Google…an alternative universe of voices free of the body and the lungs, free of paper and glue and everything else that ages and decays. Fuck the copyright problem, mortality is an emergency.”

“The New Nature,” a poem by Joshua Ware and Crystal S. Gibbins presents an inventive and modern interpretation of Emerson’s Transcendentalism and notions of human purity: “The world in our head dissolves into an artificial sunrise, more beautiful than the sunrise itself. This is what we call a more perfect version of nature.” Other poems including “Wal-Mart Aquariums” by Jeffrey H. MacLachlan and “Perusing an online catalog of hipster laptop bags” by Elizabeth Aoki, are especially stimulating in the ways they speak to the impact of materialistic narcissism and the countless sources of contamination which are generated by society and dealt with by humans on a daily basis.

An interview with Adam Zagajewski by Colleen Coyne and Molly Sutton Kiefer delves into his writing process as a poet and memoirist and stirs the compelling debate over boundary lines between genres, a type of contamination that should not necessarily be seen as a sin. Zagajewski confesses that he is a regular offender and often weaves the strands of essay and poetry together, what Coyne refers to in her editor’s note as “a blending that produces something new.”

The final section of this issue is devoted to showcasing the winners of the magazine’s Contaminated Essay Contest which challenged writers to allow genres and influences to bleed together in their creatively innovative work. The winning piece, a nonfiction essay entitled “Reticulation” by Lehua M. Taitano, is subtly ingenious in its voice, style, and composition. It reminds readers that opportunities for contamination are limitless in their shape-shifting forms; however, the effect is determined by how we choose to create, treat, and allow it to affect our perspective and the way we live our lives.
[dislocate.umn.edu/]

 

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Elder Mountain coverElder Mountain

A Journal of Ozarks Studies

Volume 2

Fall 2010

Annual

Review by Rose Engelfried

Marideth Sisco’s essay “You’re Not from Here, Are You?” gives this issue of Elder Mountain its integral sense of place, a right-away taste of the people, culture and world of the Ozarks. Sisco remembers “lying on the porch on summer nights or curled up by the woodstove in winter,” listening to her relatives tell stories. Indeed stories and the people who tell them are the heart of Sisco’s writing and all the varied pieces that follow in this volume.

Sisco writes of working for a small Ozarks press newspaper in which she was the only Ozarks native; she was the reporter people would talk to, trusted because “she speaks the language.” And she does. Sisco has more than just good memories of the Ozarks. She reflects on the region’s racism: “I remember a time when I knew everything there was to know about African American people,” she writes of her childhood, going on to add that before she turned twenty she had never met an African American. In this opening piece Sisco has laid out a picture of the Ozarks people showing them as they are: human, both as strange and familiar as it is possible to be.

Four poems provide both transition and breathing room as the reader dives deeper into the heart of the Ozarks, and poem clusters like this appear throughout the journal. Ben Bogart’s “Angel of Death in the Henhouse” captures the grim reality of a farmer’s life: “His boots smell of a thousand chicks’ painful / agonies, / coated in filth, rotting as his steps crunch.”

Matt Brennan’s “Reclamation” is more difficult to connect with the Ozarks theme. Fictional features like Ryan Stone’s “Cold Start” focus more on character than on setting but, as we saw in Sisco’s essay, people are the Ozarks, and Stone’s deft writing allows us to know both their warmth and their pride. Other stories, like Dave Malone’s “A Good Way to Die,” add less to the Ozarks feel and could have appeared in any popular fiction journal. But the writing is eloquent and the story still worth a read.

The indiscriminant placement of poetry, fiction and essays throughout the journal encourages readers to browse and to discover jewels in genres that, were the journal more traditionally divided, they might have skipped altogether. The lack of genre designation can be a bit confusing when it comes to telling the fiction pieces from the often first-person nonfiction accounts, and at times I found myself returning to the table of contents, where works are listed by their genre, just to make sure I knew what I was reading. Genre labels might have been nice but however random the placement of works appears, the overall effect is fluid and cohesive.

When the last page is turned, readers will feel they have experienced the Ozarks in all its shapes and faces.
[blogs.missouristate.edu/eldermountain]

 

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Florida English coverFlorida English

Volume 7

2009

Annual

Review by Amanda Butkovich

For this issue, the overall theme can be summed up in T. Allen Culpepper’s poem “My Life Is Not a Very Good Poem,” which starts, “My life seldom rhymes / (or reasons either, for that matter).” The genres in this issue are nicely mixed up in the ordering, and the result is an elegant, ever-changing reading experience.

The feeling—life neither rhymes nor reasons—permeates the fiction pieces. Laura Albritton has her main character fall in love with an addict; Michael W. Cox gives us two characters who “talked a little…but it wasn’t what they said that made the difference, it was just how the two could be together, in one another’s presence, and feel like things were right.”

I like many of the poems, especially one of Brian Dickson’s poems, “Reaping What Comes” and Bill Boggs’ “Pitchin’ Shit,” with its images that stink “so bad you can touch” them, as Culpepper so eloquently put it. Boggs gives us a smelly image by opening his poem with

Think: heifer pens waist
deep in manure,
so bad the cattle scraped
their backs on the beams.

Victoria Feddon’s poem “When You Leave, Then Return” and Charles Marr’s poems “Dumb Luck” and “Tampa Bay” are also notable.

The nonfiction pieces of this issue are all critical articles which offer something a little different. Renae R. Applegate House gives us an essay about the grotesque female body in Southern literature, particularly in reference to Lee Smith’s short story “The Southern Cross”; Michelle B. Gaffey evaluates salvation and historical change in Lola Ridge’s “The Ghetto”; Lillian Schanfield’s essay about translating Yiddish reads more like a memoir at times, which is in no way a bad thing, and G. St. John Stott gives us an essay on J. M. Coetzee’s Disgrace.

As a reader who enjoys a variety of works, I appreciate that there are no defining lines between the genres in this journal’s arrangement, and that, in fact, the pieces aren’t even identified by genre in the body of the journal; the only distinctions between each are made in the table of contents. This allowed me as a reader to move ubiquitously from one piece to the next as I read along. I didn’t need to be overtly aware I was crossing any “literary borders” to enjoy the fine writing in this magazine.
[flacea.org/FLENG/FloridaEnglish1.htm]

 

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FRiGG coverFRiGG

Issue 30

Fall 2010

Online Quarterly

Review by Henry F. Tonn

This lit mag is classier than its somewhat obscene name. The writing generally is clear and of high quality, the website is well laid out, and each story or poem is accompanied by engagingly colorful artwork. There is a certain in-your-face irreverence to many of the stories, but they are also entertaining as a whole. Frigg often presents two or three pieces of flash fiction by the same author – unusual in the universe of online literature today.

I enjoyed the three stories by Kevin Spaide: “Lawnmower,” “Oncology,” and “The Sweater.” “Oncology,” in particular is quite funny (Humor! Give me more humor!), and concerns a husband wandering aimlessly around a hospital while his wife visits her ex-boyfriend who has cancer of the knee. A strange man offers to give the husband a blow job in the bathroom, and later the husband arbitrarily follows a young girl around the maternity ward and into the elevator and then says, “Goodbye, other wife,” as he exits There is a nonchalant, almost vacuous quality to these stories, which are slice-of-life with little or no real beginning or ending, but that is their appeal.

Another entertaining story is “In Thirty Minutes or It’s Free,” by John Minichillo, about a pizza delivery boy who dies in an automobile accident while attempting to deliver a couple’s pizza, and the couple feel sort of responsible for his death because they ordered the pizza, so they attend his funeral. They even offer to be godparents to the baby of the pizza delivery boy’s cousin, because the deceased had been the godfather.

The poetry here is not humorous, but more often on the brutal, uncompromising side. Here is the ending of a poem by Lois Beebe Hayna entitled “To Be Continued,” about a veteran of war who must again confront the realities of a stressful family situation:

All he wants, really, is peace. No stress.
Just one ordinary day after another
so dull, so boring he’ll remember
why it was he signed up for war in the first place.

But my favorite poem was “Hex,” by the same author, which concludes:

When you come
I shall be frost and silk, shall wear
disbelief at the back of my eyes.
When you go
you will remember nothing, yet be haunted
on certain moon-hung midnights by
the blood-red scent of poppies on my hands.

If you wish an excursion that deviates pleasantly from the madding crowd, try this one.
[friggmagazine.com]

 

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The Healing Muse coverThe Healing Muse

Volume 10 Number 1

Fall 2010

Annual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

This tenth anniversary issue of this journal, dedicated to creative explorations of health and healing, includes more than 120 pages of poetry; nonfiction contributions by 14 essayists; five short stories; and more than a dozen pages of appealing and memorable artwork.

Asked by the journal’s editors to contribute to Healing Muse, 2008-2010 national poet laureate Kay Ryan offers up “Why We Must Struggle” (“how will we sense / the shape of our losses?”), setting the tone for the journal’s editorial approach. Poet Charlene Langfur counters Ryan’s query in “The Lotus of Endurance”:

Endurance may not be the right word for it,
for what’s within us when we’re not quite us—
when waiting for the old-us-we-know-so well
to return a missing part of our lives.

And Dearing Writing Award Winner (Student Division), Erika St. James, extends and brings to conclusion Ryan and Langur’s musings: “Solid roots Strong gusts / Cling here Fling far.”

Essays by Lauri Blanch, “What Doctors Do”; Daniel Roberts, “Hempel’s Disease”; and Mona de Vestel, “The Cost of Life”; illustrate the range and power of the personal essay. Lyzette Wanzer’s story, “Seasons,” demonstrates fiction’s potency when it comes to elucidating issues of health and medical matters. Hard to resist a first sentence like “She wondered: How does a hospice select its wallpaper?”

The artwork is particularly striking in this issue. How not to be soothed—healed—by the beautiful paintings of Karen Burns and Joan Applebaum? If I hadn’t spent so much time in physician’s waiting rooms this last year (that darn broken hip!), I might not be as taken with Gwynneth VanLaven’s “Waiting Rooms” images, so starkly and perfectly rendered.

Paul Rousseau’s essay begins, “Illness paid me a visit.” If you’re interested in the literature of illness and wellness, pay a visit to The Healing Muse.
[www.thehealingmuse.org]

 

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Lake Effect coverLake Effect

Volume 14

Spring 2010

Annual

Review by Bryce Magorian

Examining the inside of Lake Effect’s back cover will inform the reader of the journal’s standards. It “publishes [fiction] that emerges from character and language as much as from plot.” Always a fan of the character-driven piece, I was delighted to discover that this standard was adhered to carefully.

Aimee Parkison’s “Theatrum Insectorum” features Garner, a lonely playwright for arthropods whose hobby of building stages for them to act out private dramas was brilliant. I was engaged from start to finish, attempting to puzzle out the mind of such an odd fellow. Wendell Mayo’s “The Big Healy” also deserves special mention for both the title character (an archetypal bully who attains surprising depth by the end) and the character of Maude Roller: “Maude for Maudlin, Maude for Maugham, Maude for Weeping in Bondage.”

The poetry guidelines ask for “poems that demonstrate an original voice and that use multilayered, evocative images presented in language shaped by an awareness of how words sound and how they mean.” While many featured poets accomplished this splendidly, I’ll note Darlene Pagán’s “Razbliuto.” This poem delved into the histories of words from a multitude of languages, words that both sound and mean in manifold ways. The titular word, Razbliuto, is “Russian for the feelings / you have for someone you once loved, but / now do not,” and the meanings do not stop there when it is revealed that the word did, in fact, “not exist” and was “just a root word, / razliubit, to stop loving, recorded in a long / list of urban legends.”

Lake Effect looks for literary nonfiction pieces that “engage literature in the context of a lived life.” I recognized this quality in Curtis Smith’s piece “The Borders of Diane Arbus,” in which the author’s life struggle with “the imperfect science of understanding” led him to identify with Arbus’s shutter-click worlds of “the dominatrix and her client, the protestors, the distrustful pedestrians and the group home residents.” In “a society that worships beauty and youth above all else,” Arbus’s “themes of creeping, if sometimes creepy, humanity” resonated with Smith.

I thoroughly enjoyed the majority of work in this offering from Lake Effect, which was elevated beyond the norm by fiction featuring solidly defined characters placed in worlds that highlighted their complexity, poetry that challenges its audience without being opaque, and literary nonfiction that motivates its readers to expand their own personal stories.
[www.pserie.psu.edu/academic/hss/lakeeffect/index.html]

 

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The Literary Review coverThe Literary Review

Volume 54 Number 1

Fall 2010

Quarterly

Review by Renee Emerson

The theme for this is “Refrigerator Mothers: ‘Just happening to defrost enough to produce a child’…and other things we said that we wish we could take back,” and I would recommend it to any writer who is a mother or expecting mother. The issue includes short stories and poems from the perspective of mothers and some from the perspective of the writer thinking back on their mother. “A Good Day,” an essay by Jessie van Eerden, is a moving, detailed look at the seemingly ordinary, everyday aspects of her mother that defined her.

Susan Rothbard’s work stood out in this issue. Her poems are from the viewpoint of a mother, taking in the sweet, the hard, sometimes bitter aspects of motherhood. Her beautiful poem “Feeding the Birds” describes her and her husband's new hobby of bird watching, and her fight to keep grackles from the lawn, preferring the “cardinals, / jays, a goldfinch—that yellow most of all.” The poem concludes,

Now the empty suet feeder sways like a hanged
man on the branch where the grackles
had perched, and I watch from the window.
I could not choose my children this way.

Another poem that stands out in this issue is Kelli Russell Agodon’s “She Says What An Amazing Lamp,” a wry look at the mother, the one that everyone knows, who seems to live to make other mothers feel inferior. This mother is the one who “says even breakfast should be / educational, even dinner, even lunch” and says,

stay-at-home moms
are happier, having more sex,
and happier. She highlights happy
with a yellow pen, a sunlamp,
a shimmer.

The issue also includes a few short book reviews, and a conversation between Ceridwen Morris and Jenny Offill on “Is There Anything Literary About Motherhood?”
[www.TheLiteraryReview.org]

 

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The Louisville Review coverThe Louisville Review

Number 68

Fall 2010

Biannual

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

Guest editors Philip F. Deaver (fiction), Nancy McCabe (nonfiction), and Kelly Moffett (poetry) join drama editor, Charlie Schulman, and Louisville Review editor Sena Jeter Naslund to offer up yet another notable issue. From accomplished poets Eleanor Wilner, Stephen Dunn, and Frederick Smock—among many others—to the surprising accomplishments of poems in the “Children’s Corner,” featuring work more polished and successful than one expects from high school students, this is a particularly appealing issue.

Poetry is smart and smartly composed, tending toward the philosophical and metaphysical for the most part rather than narrative or incident-driven compositions, work that ponders large questions, including the meaning of large questions. Here are the opening lines of Eleanor Wilner’s “Of Words”:

English asks: What does it mean?
Italian asks: How does it want to be said.
I ask in the way of Italian, which gives to words desire,
how gray matter wants to be said.

I liked, in particular, “Contours” by the ever-lyrical Doug Ramspeck; translations from the Spanish of Uruguayan poet Líber Falco (1906-1955) by Laura Chalar; Michael T. Young’s “Honeybees” (“And when I read / that honeybees are dying in thousands, / an epidemic no one can explain, I wondered, / Have I forgotten something? Who am I now?”); and “Condition Blue,” by James Harmes: “For years, I tried / to make a blue building / in words.”

The work of three-dozen mature poets is accompanied by five short stories, five essays, four short dramatic works, and the poems of eight youth writers. Prose, for the most part, is personal and affable, familiar voices with readable stories, focused mainly on family stories. “Denying the Enemy Ground,” sudden fiction by Larry S. Williams, represents a departure from family-oriented material, a short Vietnam War story.

The four short plays were written for Theater Oobleck, a Chicago-based company that mounts new works (“Theater Oobleck Is: New Works; No Director: Free If You’re Broke”). Ensemble members write all the material they produce and perform. The company conducts open rehearsals, inviting feedback from the audience for potential incorporation into the works. The plays published here are quite different from each other, ranging from the nearly surreal in their linguistic impulses, to the casual language and tone of intimate storytelling: “Before I tell you of my bad day, for that is why I am here, to tell you of this bad day, I must first tell you of a very good day I had,” begins “Havel/Bickle” by David Isaacson.

My recommendation for a good day: read this issue of The Louisville Review.
[www.louisvillereview.org/]

 

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Monkeybicycle coverMonkeybicycle

Number 7

2010

Biannual

Review by Rusty Childers

Monkeybicycle’s cover for this issue seduced me with its sleek matte finish of an image of red smoke over a white background. It was a pleasure to just hold the journal, and I couldn’t wait to see under the covers. The interior layout is conventional but easy to read, and I’m very thankful the editors didn’t try to do something fancy with the table of contents; they keep it simple and clean. The real beauty of this issue isn’t the cover or the layout, though. It’s in the stories and poems.

The prose can be a little rough, but perhaps more interesting for it. For example, Elizabeth Alexander’s short story “On Anzio Beach” begins with the central character talking to herself, and although this is a little confusing in spots, I got used to it. In fact, this becomes rather charming after a couple of pages, and really drew me into the story, even when I did have to reread it to clarify some points. It is a surprisingly fun story too, with a dog that speaks French, smokes, and is the reincarnation of a family friend.

Another interesting story is Roxane Gay’s “The Weight of Water.” Gay uses the curious image of a hard-working woman named Bianca who is surrounded by water. The first line is great (and the first of many great lines), “Water and its damages followed Bianca.” Short, complicated, and a bit tragic, “The Weight of Water” does a lot in just a few pages.

I appreciate the poems in this issue, but I have difficulty with poems that play with the space on the page a bit too much, and this issue contained several. I like to read, not assemble puzzles, at least not at the same time. Still, on a purely word level (and if I placed them into more conventional lines in my head), Rita Dahl’s “Letter for a young poet” has some great lines. “Walked with deliberate / steps to the café’s cashier” has some nice alliteration at the beginning and end, and I enjoy the final lines of the poem’s first page:

with a modest cup in her hand steams
nobody remembers the most important thing
walk
well-formed legs of a
woman

even as I dislike that last line break a little.

Still, despite any small quirks, I’ll read the next issue of Monkeybicycle when it comes out. The magazine may have hooked me with that sexy cover, but it was the companionship I found with it, lazing around at home on a Sunday afternoon listening to the rain, that made me want to keep it on my bookshelf.
[www.monkeybicycle.net/]

 

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New Letters coverNew Letters

Volume 76 Number 4

2010

Quarterly

Review by Sima Rabinowitz

“Flight in Word and Deed” is the theme to this issue—transcendence, explains editor Robert Stewart. His introduction is, nonetheless, a defense of the grounded nature of the literary journal as an object, something “weighty” we can hold in our hands. (“As America gets fatter, it seems to want its art to become weightless,” he writes of e-books and cyber publications). He doesn’t need to convince me that the printed page, the bound volume, the variation in texture from the uncoated paper of the pages containing stories and poems to the glossy coated stock of the extraordinary reproductions of paintings by Fabian Debora are worth their weight in pixels, providing a kind of pleasure hard to replicate in digital spheres.

Here are a few of the journal’s offerings that transported me: Chilean poet Eugenia Toledo’s poems translated by Carolyne Wright, “Qué forma dejaste en la página del olvido? / What shape did you leave on the page of oblivion?”. Poet B.H. Fairchild’s essay, “Logophilia,” in which he admits to being a victim of “falling in love with language” and whose essay is intimate, smart, and insightful. Mariko Nagai’s sculpted prose in the story “Confession.” And tremendously exciting acrylic paintings by Fabian Debora and sculpture by Juan Carlos Muñoz Hernândez, introduced by Annie Fischer in “The Art of Invention.” Ray Young Bear’s poem “From the Landscape, a Superimposition” represents both the ultimate in flight and grounded-ness: “Today there’s no equivalent.”

An interview with fiction writer Ethan Canin conducted by Bonnie Lyons is informative and pleasurable; and brief, but intelligent reviews of books from independent presses help me decide what might make for worthwhile future reading.

New Letters is consistently thoughtful, smart, and focused. Today, there’s no equivalent.
[www.newletters.org]

 

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RATTLE coverRattle

Volume 16 Number 2

Winter 2010

Biannual

Review by Renee Emerson

Rattle's winter issue features a special section of poetry entitled “Tribute to Mental Health Workers,” which includes poetry on a variety of issues in the field, from Alzheimer’s to therapists to hospital workers. While some poems delve into the grief and sadness of these illnesses, others approach them with hope. Gwenn A. Nusbaum’s poem “Hospital, Spring,” is one such poem, describing a man waiting during his wife’s surgery, while “babies are being born.” This section also includes an interesting article by Maryhelen Snyder, “The Art of Waiting: The Parallels of Poetry and Therapy.”

This issue also announces the Rattle Poetry Prize winner, Patricia Smith, for her poem “Tavern. Tavern. Church. Shuttered Tavern,” a fast-paced free verse poem detailing the store fronts and small buildings in a city. The poem, with its long lines and nonstop description, gives one the feeling of riding through a city in a bus, which is referred to in the last line “the only route out of the day we’re riding through.” The Rattle Poetry Prize honorable mentions include Michele Battiste, Heidi Garnett, Valentina Gnup, francine j. harris, Courtney Kampa, Devon Miller-Duggan, Andrew Nurkin, Laura Read, and Scott Withiam.

Artwork is by Mia Barkan Clarke, and the issue concludes with two interviews, one with Ted Kooser and the other with William O’Daly.
[www.rattle.com]

 

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Sleeping Fish coverSleeping Fish

Issue 8

2010

Annual

Review by Michael Johnson

The cover explains the selections within very well: things are going to get weird. The publication is filled with more questions than answers; each story leaves you in a new locale, and while rereading may make things more understandable, true clarity is never given. The biggest mistake one can make entering these works is assuming that a solution, a character, or a situation will be made explicit. Often one is simply forced to fight imagination with imagination.

That would be fine if most of the bare ideas the authors gave wouldn’t lead to such dark areas. “The Lonesome Deaths of Bud and Sandy” by Dennis Cooper is a page long, with two small vignettes of what can only be described as an odd, accepted homicide of a father’s two children. Anna DeForest’s “The Lemon Wife” is a series of nine paragraphs, told in second person point of view, and made up almost entirely of questions, “Ever headed home from somewhere?”. “Dakota” by Ottessa Moshfegh finds a collegiate narrator given an assignment to describe himself as one of the fifty US states. It ends with that same character explaining that a stranger on the street will kill you, the reader, someday. These stories seem intentionally difficult to grasp.

Not every story necessarily strands a reader. In some cases, the mystery is welcomed. The contributions made by The Brothers Goat (a name chosen perhaps as an homage to the Grimms), entitled “The Study” and “The Spot” read like sadistic childhood parables. “And Given the Chance to Be Safe,” written by Alec Neidenthal, with its short blips of exposition and dialogue, turns out to be the most airtight of all the stories included. A torn family comes together after their son intentionally clogs the toilet, which is fixed by the steady hand of his grandmother.

Perhaps the line that best embodies the experience of reading this issue comes from Christine Schutt’s “Blank.” After two and a half pages of disjointed paragraphs of what must be pieces of uninterrupted thought (some only two words long), the enigmatic narrator mentions, “Your thoughts are so depressingly obvious. You’ll have to tell me because I don’t know what it is I’m thinking.” Finally, someone starts to make some sense around here.

Maybe the objectives of these stories are to engage above all else. Maybe the reader is supposed shift his or her reactions from confused to pissed to introspective a hundred times in a page. Intention may not be clear, but perception will always be present. It is possible to get something out of this issue of Sleeping Fish, but be prepared: Some stories will ask much of the reader. For those not faint of brain, these oddities will be enticing.
[www.sleepingfish.net/]

 

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Washington Square coverWashington Square

Summer/Fall 2010

Biannual

Review by Katy Carr

The cover art of this issue is from Dan Hillier’s collection of altered engravings, four which appear inside the magazine. Hillier’s pictures are odd, collaging the real with the imagined. Many of his engraving show humans with animal features. For example, the engraving on the cover depicts a woman in Victorian dress whose skirts branch out into octopus tentacles. This weirdness seems intentional and thematic for the issue as a whole.

“How I Fell in Love; Then How I Killed my Baby” by Nic Brown with its startling title first caught my eye. The title (spoiler alert) gives the story away, and the set-up is common: boy meets love, things are good, then things disintegrate. The first scene opens down by a lake with a group of college students swimming and ends with the main character, nicknamed Slow, “sitting beside a strange, beautiful woman and an ex-con with tattooed fingers who claimed to be a mind reader.” Slow ends up marrying the woman he met that day and they live quietly together. Then the story takes another abrupt turn, this time not so much towards the weird, but towards the tragic when Slow’s car crashes with him and his pregnant wife inside.

A section of the review is subtitled “From the Borderlands.” According to the small introductory note by the editor, the selections in “Borderlands” reflect on the ideas of exile and border-crossing. Many of the authors featured are writing from outside their native country either because they themselves have been exiled or it is unsafe for them to voice their opinions in publications in their home countries. Amusingly, what separates “Borderlands” from the rest of the issue are the other engravings by Dan Hillier. In the same way, many of the authors in this section deal with boundaries, identity, and what is “real.”

Overall, I was intrigued and interested by everything Washington Square had to offer. The pieces were charmingly offbeat with a fresh voice, setting, theme, or message. Everything I read in this issue raised a new question in my mind, or at least made me raise an eyebrow. Boundaries weren’t only discussed in this issue; they were pushed.
[washingtonsquarereview.com]

 

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Western Humanities Review coverWestern Humanities Review

Volume 64 Number 2

Summer 2010

Triannual

Review by Shane Kwiatkowski

When I read for pleasure I want to be transported to another place: another world, another time, another headspace. But it is a particular treat when I am able to get a fresh perspective on the art of writing and storytelling itself.

That is the goal for this issue of Western Humanities Review, which is replete with hybrid pieces like those by James Sanders and Zac Denton. Conceivably called “word webs,” these nonlinear collections of words, more like word clouds, invite interactive art-making on the page. Readers are encouraged to shape their own poems from the web. I had some fun with that and created a poem or two of my own.

Another form of storytelling is re-examined in a collection of found poems in Susan Howe’s piece, “Poem Found in a Pioneer Museum.” Made up of selections of signs in museums, these unintentional poems invite us to consider a personal re-enchantment with the world around us.

Also included, though hard to describe, is art where text and image are married together in such a way that the world itself can seem like its material is made of words. This is expressed beautifully in Jeff Alessandrelli’s “Gnosienne #2,” Nance Van Winkel’s collection Six Photoems, and dawn lonsinger’s ethereal “what if you come near it.” The aim of all these pieces is to marry different forms of art together to create a “hybrid work.” To put it simply, as the editors of the magazine do in their Editor’s Note, “a hybrid work is a literary form that utilizes two types of genres for inspiration.” The “collaborative” in the sub-title refers to many pieces found in the issue in which two or more artists combined efforts to create a work of art.

Now, whether you feel comfortable or understand it all is a whole other ball game; but perhaps that is what’s meant to happen when we enter what #38 of the editorial introduction’s “(45 Tweets on Not-Knowing)” describes as, “Moments that allow us to abandon, however fleetingly, the securities of our limitedness & enter new realms of self-reflective consciousness.”
[www.hum.utah.edu/whr/]

 

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Wild Apples coverWild Apples

A Journal of Nature, Art, and Inquiry

Issue 5

Spring/Summer 2010

Biannual

Review by Sami Auclair

“Animals take center stage in this fifth issue of Wild Apples,” writes Linda Hoffman, the founding editor of the journal. Humans are a part of this issue too, but more precisely the pieces are about how we fit into the animal world—and even how the animal world fits into us. (In some cases, literally; in “The Animals Within Us,” Greg Lowenberg discloses that four hundred species of parasites live in and on us, including our intestinal tracts.) Thus, the interconnection between humans and other creatures becomes the thematic thread that strings together all the pieces in this issue.

In Pamela C. Rosi’s essay, “Magical Animals in Papua New Guinea Art,” I learned that pigs “are symbols of wealth, status, and leadership” in New Guinea. “They are reared by women, and clan leaders…marry several wives to ‘grow’ pigs for competitive feasts. Pigs are so valuable that a woman may breastfeed a piglet.” In Kathryn Liebowitz’s essay, “Out of Our Skins: of Flux and Fame,” I discovered that “In the world of fairytales and myths, the boundary between humans and animals is fluid and quixotic.” Liebowitz explores the metamorphoses from human to animal and then back again.

The artwork in this issue is vivid, plentiful, and arranged to maximize the aesthetic presentation of each written piece. As a result, the journal is visually pleasing and attracts the reader’s attention. While this issue is carefully laid out, the editors took some liberties in its design, as the poems become intertwined with essays, which become covered in artwork. But the journal, as a whole, seems to work. The permeating theme of “praising animals” is enough to keep the narrative flow, even when the artwork might overwhelm the coherence.

Through its array of captivating illustrations, nature poems, and essays regarding animal ethics, history and beyond, this issue of Wild Apples can woo any nature-lover, any artist, any writer, or truly anyone drawn to the mysterious and the compassionate. “In our own lives,” Hoffman writes in the introduction, “if we are fortunate enough to come upon a turtle laying eggs, the footprints of a fox, or some other unmistakable sign of a wild creature, we are filled with a reverence we don’t necessarily understand. Poets understand!”
[www.wildapples.org]

 

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ZYZZYVA coverZYZZYVA

Volume 26 Number 2

Fall 2010

Triannual

Review by Robbie Dressler

ZYZZYVA, besides having name difficult to pronounce, is a triannual publication out of San Francisco and features only West Coast writers. The name itself refers to tropical American weevils and is the last word in most dictionaries.

Founder and long-time editor Howard Junker opens this issue with a letter describing all the financial support ZYZZYVA has received since its start in 1984 as well as an introduction for Laura Cogan, who will take over for Junker at the end of the year. Junker has been looking for a successor for a while now, and it seems he has found one.

As a publication for West Coast writers, ZYZZYVA pays attention to the local scene. Photos of “the San Francisco Culturati” are sprinkled throughout the journal, with many artists photographed in black and white with an 8x10 inch wooden view camera. These images almost haunt the pages in between the poems and stories.

One of the most appealing aspects of the journal is the space they reserve for authors who have never been published. All of the first timers in this issue produced strong work, but two of the memoirs stick out. “Hair of the Dog,” recounts author Tupelo Hassman’s attachment to her Great Dane, Julio, as she tries to come to terms with his eventual death. Great Danes don’t live as long as other breeds, as “their hearts aren’t big enough for their bodies.”

“Prison Chronicles,” by J. Tony Serra, another strong memoir, is exactly what it sounds like. Serra, a San Franciscan criminal defense lawyer, was imprisoned for being a tax resister, not evader, which he is quick to distinguish between. Serra describes with a fluid, matter of fact style what being incarcerated is like and how it wears on a person. He writes “I have picked up so much debris and garbage cans that my hands are no longer art, they are function.”

All the poetry in this issue is in response to Arizona’s anti-immigration law SB 1070. Many of the poets express how integral the Mexican culture is to the southwest. In “Chook Son, Arizona,” Abel Salas writes,

We do not seek
an overthrow or coup, cuz
we know how to share. We’ve
been doing it for 15,000 years.

Every piece in this issue is worth reading. Go out and buy it. Subscribe to it. Stop reading this. Go do it.
[www.zyzzyva.org]

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